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Acute Exercise Influences Reward Processing in Highly Trained and Untrained Men


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 3 - p 583–591
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318275306f
Applied Sciences

Introduction Physical activity activates brain regions and transmitter systems that represent the reward system (i.e., the ventral striatum [VS] and dopamine). To date, the effect of training status and acute exercise on reward processing has not been investigated systematically in humans. To address this issue, we examined highly trained (HT) physically inactive (PIA) men with a monetary incentive delay (MID) paradigm.

Methods We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of monetary incentive processing after acute exercise. HT and PIA subjects were randomized into two groups. Subjects in one group ran on a treadmill (T) for 30 min at 60%–70% of their maximal oxygen uptake (V˙O2max), whereas subjects in the other group performed placebo exercise (P). Approximately 1 h after exercise, the MID task was conducted. Mood was assessed using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule before and after the exercise intervention.

Results The psychological assessment showed that exercise significantly increased mood in HT and PIA men. During gain anticipation and gain feedback of the MID task, the VS was significantly stronger activated in the placebo group than in the treadmill group. No effect of training status and no interactions between training status and acute exercise were found.

Conclusions Acute exercise diminishes sensitivity to monetary rewards in humans. This finding is discussed concerning interactions between tonic and phasic dopamine in the VS.

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1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Charité Campus Mitte, Berlin, GERMANY; and 2Institute of Sports Medicine, Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, GERMANY

Address for correspondence: Elisabeth Zschucke, M.Sc., and Nina Bothe, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Charité Campus Mitte, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany; E-mail:;

Submitted for publication April 2012.

Accepted for publication September 2012.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (

Note: Wüstenberg and Ströhle hold equal senior authorship. Bothe and Zschucke contributed equally to this work.

© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine